Caster Semenya – what else is a genetic advantage in sport?

FEED Forums General Banter Caster Semenya – what else is a genetic advantage in sport?

This topic contains 31 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  hannnna 6 months ago.

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  • #4476

    lilly
    Participant

    Caster Semenya, world champion in the eight hundred metres, now has a ruling against her ability to naturally produce more than ‘normal’ testosterone for a woman and so to continue to compete she will have to suppress her testosterone with drugs.

    Some of the drug options she now has if she wants to keep competing have potential side effects include bone wastage, infertility, and excessive urinatination. Some of the drugs have never even been tested on women.

    So what is a genetic advantage in sport?
    If you are very tall should you be penalized? If you have bigger feet or produce less lactic acid then others should you be handicapped in a race? Where is the line for genetic advantage in sport?

    The sporting world celebrated and praised Michael Phelps’s genetic differences. Why punish Caster Semenya for hers? Is it because she is a black woman. The whole thing feels like drawing a line….which leads to more lines…

    Should we force athletes to suppress their natural abilities?

  • #4477

    sophie
    Participant

    The issue is because most athletics isn’t separated on height or weight, boxing is for example. But it is separated by sex and testosterone which is were the difference comes in. Also this ruling only applies to DSD athletes which genetically test as XY which Castor does which does make her genetically Male which is why this ruling is in place.

    • #4478

      lilly
      Participant

      Should we then separate athletics into categories? It’s interesting that we don’t. But I can’t help but feel if she was a swimmer or cyclist this ruling would be the same?

      How many categories do we need to have?

      • #4479

        sophie
        Participant

        We do already have categories for para sports and for physical sports like wrestling boxing etc not out of the realms of possibility to have more.

        I believe these distances were chosen specifically as there was large amounts of data that showed that testosterone conferred a massive sporting advantage, the other distances haven’t been fully analysed yet.

  • #4480

    lilly
    Participant

    Interestingly different reports say different things on the ‘genetically male’ issue.

    The CAS media statement for the ruling on her suggests that the IAAF regulations apply to “XY DSDs”, people born with variations of sex characteristics including 46 XY chromosomes. But the 2018 IAAF regulations refer to a small range of variations including (46 XX) congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

    But if we need more categories where does it stop? Do we exclude the links of Michael Phelps because of his genetic advantages? Why wasn’t he forced to take drugs?

  • #4481

    Fi
    Participant

    What has her skin colour got to do with it?

    • #4483

      cat
      Participant

      Excellent excellent question!

  • #4482

    cat
    Participant

    The issue is complex as outside of sport Castor actually lives her life as Male and identifies as Male, she only identifies as female for competing. If a Male was to test as XX then it doesn’t matter as they have no advantage over men. The whole point of the separation is to allow women to be able to compete, if they’re constantly beaten by men then what’s the point.

    Also the height etc doesn’t actually matter as it is a variation within the set criteria ie Male. If a competitor was fully genetically female and higher testosterone then this also allowed but they wouldn’t as biologically it doesn’t happen.

    • #4484

      lilly
      Participant

      Does she? I hadn’t read that she lives as a male? I know she’s lesbian but that isn’t living as a man or a lot of my friends will be shocked to learn about their change in lifestyle unbeknownst to them lol

      • #4485

        cat
        Participant

        Yes, and her wife claims they are heterosexual and not a lesbian couple!

      • #4486

        lilly
        Participant

        So if you are identified as heterosexual and are also XY shouldn’t you be competing as a man? Why isn’t the ruling ‘off you go to the men’s race’? Instead of ‘here take these drugs?

        I’ve only read that she is lesbian I haven’t seen statement from her that she considers herself heterosexual so that’s really interesting.

      • #4487

        cat
        Participant

        She can compete in Male races if she wants. She can also lower her testosterone and race in female or she can race a different distance.

      • #4488

        lilly
        Participant

        Not clear what the distance has to do here, if you have the genetic advantage surely you have it over 800m or 1000m? It might be the difference in someone being gold or silver.

        If you’re taller than everyone else should you be restricted in distance too? The perfect athlete still has to train and want it.

      • #4489

        bosworth
        Participant

        The press release is quite interesting. Distance is relevant because the rule only applies to middle distances because that is where this issue crops up.

  • #4490

    Kerry
    Participant

    Does she identify as male outside the sport? I’d never heard that before.

    • #4491

      beckyE
      Participant

      That’s what I though too. In fact, I’m sure that was part of her lawyers’ argument – that she was born, brought up and identifies as female.

      I really hate this case, because I can’t see a “fair” solution. CS is an incredible athlete, but it does seem that she has a genetic advantage over other women that means competition against her is less than fair. And yet banning her from competing or making her take hormone surprising drugs doesn’t seem fair either. I honestly don’t know what I think is the right judgement. Maybe, as others have said, different categories?

      • #4492

        connie
        Participant

        I might be wrong but I did read it somewhere that she mainly identifies as male but also identifies as female. Either way I do feel for her but unfortunately I’m not sure how else you protect female sport?

  • #4493

    ella
    Participant

    Sport is segregated by sex for a reason.

    Obviously sport is not a level playing field regards many many other genetic factors and top sports people are always going to be genetic freaks who also work hard essentially. But that sex advantage males have is such a huge step difference. There isn’t a gradual gradation in testosterone levels and physique. There are two very distinct populations with a vanishingly small number of exceptions. Even a woman with the most testosterone a woman has ever produced would not be near the male amount of testosterone.

  • #4494

    sophie
    Participant

    The reason sport is separated generally by sex once athletes hit puberty is because hormones come into play. Testosterone is the advantage that males have over females in terms of growth of muscle and power. If her hormonal makeup is as a male (remembering that it is the hormones that causes this difference in ability) then how is it fair to compete against others lacking this advantage.

    The lactic acid advantage with Phelps is a good point but it’s a natural advantage, just the same as tall people are naturally faster swimmer as they have more pull and shorter people are naturally better gymnasts as they have a lower point of balance and their bodies are easier to flip. Unfortunately having a natural lactic acid advantage is just the same benefit as naturally being suited to a certain sport.

    It not fair on CS but unfortunately her natural advantage is a determining one.

  • #4495

    tigg
    Participant

    I believe ALL athletes have to undergo sex testing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_verification_in_sports

  • #4496

    skipper
    Participant

    Are there any jobs or professions where women are legally excluded because they are not strong or fast enough?
    It seems daft that while women are able to join the SAS, coast guards, fire and rescue etc, where strength and other physiological factors are life saving, why are women still competing at a lower level to men in sport where no ones life is at risk ?

    • #4497

      tigg
      Participant

      I don’t think it is because of a ‘lower level’, it was because men would constantly win ALL the events and women would never win anything. Take 100m racing example, the mediocre male athlete still gets a better time then the best female athlete, they would never get a look in. How would that be fair?

      And regards to SAS and para a female is actually yet to pass the requirement for this even though they have tried.

      • #4498

        skipper
        Participant

        So, by your own admission, a mediocre men can out perform the best female athlete in sport where no lives are at risk and yet in jobs where physical strength and speed are some times crucial in saving lives, there is no such consideration in the selection process as recruitment drives and quotas seek to recruit women.
        I’m all for a level playing field in equality in sport. It would solve gender discrimination.

      • #4499

        mel
        Participant

        Some professions have minimal physical criteria that some women can meet. If she can meet the minimum physical criteria she can do the job. It is not discriminatory to set those criteria at a required level that only a very exceptional woman could ever meet… if that is what is required for the job. Even if the levels were set at a standrad that no woman could ever reach there would still be some men who could! In some sports women can and do out-perform men too. It does not follow that men and women should therefore compete together in all sports, men continue to have a marked biological advantage in strength and speed no matter how good the best women can make themselves.

      • #4500

        tigg
        Participant

        There is consideration in those jobs, many women don’t meet the criteria for the very reason that lives are at at stake. It would solve gender discrimination, it would also end females winning anything and ALL sport would just be men, which was why it was separated in the first place.

  • #4501

    supersoccerfan
    Participant

    The big problem I have is with the future female athletes – in all sports.

    There has always been acknowledgement that Testosterone is a drug that aids performance. Males produce a lot of it naturally, females less. Hence there has always been a limit (set a degree or two above natural production) above which drug taking has been taken as fact.

    If we are to allow those taking part in female sport (of any and all types) to be allowed an almost limitless amount of Testosterone in their system, and this for years, how long before unscrupulous coaches, parents, national sports associations and even governments start injecting young girls to produce the gold medal winners of tomorrow.

    This is not scaremongering, it has been done before. The entire Soviet Bloc was at it before the walls came down, and numerous athletes had their health (and indeed life) ruined by those who pumped them full of whatever their scientists reckoned would help.

    Caster Semenya almost certainly * had nothing to do with illegal drug taking (apart from anything else I sincerely doubt she would have had the money to obtain such), but there are those that do have the wherewithal, and who would indeed carry out such a drug regimen. You only have to look at the fact that Russia is STILL banned for its government-sponsored drug regime, where many athletes were under the impression that they were being given vitamins or such like.

    It may well be that (sadly) one person (Semenya) suffers, but what about the rest of sport today, and more importantly, what about the safety of ALL the female athletes in ALL sports tomorrow.

    * – I say “almost certainly” because I have no access to the records that could/would prove it, not for any other reason.

    • #4502

      bosworth
      Participant

      Are you sure about this? I have no particular knowledge of the topic but my understanding was that there are tests to distinguish between naturally-produced and artificially injected testosterone.

      If it was simply a matter of accepting any value below a certain level as fine then by your own logic many athletes would already have been doping up to just below that level, which I haven’t seen any suggestion of. If they were, that would surely have been part of this Caster Semenya conversation.

  • #4503

    nicola
    Participant

    CS clearly considers herself female, but she just as clearly is not. Instead, she is a human who is genetically male but with a fetal developmental defect leading to female secondary sexual development (which also includes mental aspects and thus female sexual self identification as a consequence of this female mode development).

    In contrast, the development of her musculature especially during since puberty did not follow this female mode. Instead, her muscle cells are apparently sensitive to the testosterone produced by her testes. To note, she improved from an 800m time of 2.04 to 1.55 within nine months around age 17, which in fact triggered the initial sex test of 2009 (such a change is either a sign of massive doping, or the puberty related changes typical for male development).

    While for most fields (social, legal, etc.) CS’s status as a woman must not be questioned, it therefore makes no sense to do so in sport: The relevant part of her physiology is, like her genetic makeup, male. Thus, she should be treated as a good but not international level male athlete rather than the world’s outstanding female runner.

    She is not unique in this, e.g. the two other medalists of the 2016 Olympic 800 m race are both also either known or strongly suspected to have the same condition.

  • #4504

    Fi
    Participant

    A leaked report stated that she was indeed Intersex and had internal testes which is what gives her the elevated testosterone.
    This was never officially confirmed because of Human Rights issues, etc. and quite correctly that information should never be released without the individuals consent.
    The only feasible way that the IAAF can control this issue is by introducing a testosterone cut off level that is physically unobtainable by female athletes and banning athletes that exceed that level from taking part in female only events.
    If Semenya is adamant that she is XX, then she could easily release the test results and stop all this confusion. The fact that she doesn’t, indicates to many, that she is perhaps Intersex and doesn’t therefore want to make that public knowledge for the obvious reasons.

  • #4505

    pippy
    Participant

    I think it’s wrong to state that she is genetically AND physiologically male. Genetically, if XY, she’s male. Physiologically she’s not.

    • #4506

      Jessica P
      Participant

      Of course she is an XY intersex. There are many reasons and many degrees to which the developmental trajectory can be shifted from the normal (for XY) male mode to female, including SRY deletion (which would lead to full female development including the primary sexual organs), or defective androgen production, defective androgen sensing, or defective androgen responses (which tends to lead to various intersex phenotypes). Not all tissues need respond in the same way, either.

      My point is that in the case of CS the musculature still responded, at least in part, to the elevated testosterone levels that are associated with her primary male genetic makeup, especially during and since puberty.

      This is the main thing that distinguishes physical development in young men from young women: Look in any kindergarten or primary school and you will often see girls that are stronger or faster than their boy classmates. Do the same after puberty, and it will be rare.

      The improvement in 800m times CS experienced around age 17 (according to wikipedia) are precisely the effect of a male type puberty, suggesting that she also now still has the continued anabolic effect of testis produced testosterone.

      Thus, if you bother at all with having a women’s category in athletics, you better make sure that the competitors all had female type muscle development during and from these years. Anything else, such as external sex organs, Barr bodies, or the actual genetic makeup is irrelevant.

      I don’t know what the best way is to deal with the problem participation of intersex athletes poses for female competitors with normal physiology. Demanding that CS takes drugs to lower her testosterone levels, or even asking for surgery seems to me to be a massive human rights issue.

      I would therefore prefer to cleanly ban XY, high testosterone intersex athletes from female competitions. Bad luck (and arguably a lesser human rights issue), but simply an unfortunate consequence of the hand they were dealt by genetics.

      To me this seems the less bad option by virtue of being unfair to fewer people (compared e.g. to classic sex examinations or self classification), but of course such an utilitaristic approach to ethics has its own problems.

  • #4507

    hannnna
    Participant

    I read an interesting article in the Guardian where the journalist said that there is no “easy” solution to this case, because someone loses out whichever way the judgement goes. Caster Semenya’s journey has been inspirational for a lot of people and for them, banning her from competing in women’s categories seems like it is removing a fundamental human right, given that she was raised as a woman. But at present, this is the best and fairest way we have of protecting women’s competition – we do have to draw the line somewhere, or we might as well just have everyone compete together (which I strongly disagree with).

    Regarding other genetic abnormalities and whether or not they confer an unfair advantage – the problem is, according to the way we separate male and female competitors, having testes and higher testosterone levels is not the same as having bigger feet or being taller, because it is actually part of the criteria used to separate the male and female competitors. Therefore, for fair competition, you would expect no-one in the women’s category to have these, whereas all the men would. Other genetic abnormalities exist within those categories – they don’t define them.

    I wasn’t initially sure what I thought on this issue. However, I have read a lot of different information over the past few days and I have finally decided that I think CAS made the right decision, whilst recognising that this is a scenario in which there isn’t perhaps a “good” decision.

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